Olban lurched to a halt. The long flight of stairs had ended. He teetered at the brink of a wide gap in the earth floor. Placing one foot behind him to steady himself, he lowered the gem to judge the depth of the void.
He remembered now. The void was believed to have been an extra defence, a means of making it difficult for robbers to leave the cavern with their arms full of treasure. He should have remembered earlier, for there had been another clue in the fragile text: mention of a stone crossing–the translation roughly meant something like a barrier bridged by rock.
He grinned, jubilant. He had guessed correctly.
The ‘treasure’ was the power, and he, Olban, Seer of the Sleih, had solved the puzzle of where this power, if it existed, likely abided.
Hestia would be thoroughly put out. He gloated on the thought.
He eyed the stone crossing. It seemed solid.
He should cross over, see where it led. Hestia would be more upset when he reported such an act of daring.
He lifted one sandalled foot and brought it down experimentally on the stone. Solid. He lifted his other foot. One foot after the other, slow and firm, arms outstretched, he moved cautiously forward.
The diamond grew hot in his hand, too hot to hold. He couldn’t set it down so he brought his arms forward and tossed it from one palm to the other like a burning coal. The action unbalanced him and for the first time he felt fear.
He should return to his bed. Bring others down tomorrow. He took a step backwards, wobbling on the bridge. And gasped.
A sharp white brilliance burst from the void like a climbing lightning strike.
Up it soared before his dazzled eyes, searing through the roof of the cavern, through layers of earth and rock, seeking starlit sky. A flash of white, harsh light struck his hand. Olban dropped the gem as if scalded. It bounced on the stone bridge, once, then silence.
It had fallen into the depths.
Blinded, trembling, his hand burning, he wished he had heeded Hestia’s advice.
The brilliant whiteness vanished. Olban rubbed his eyes as abrupt darkness pressed on his head and shoulders like a physical weight.
Fast, panicked panting which matched his own thudding heart sounded behind him.
Someone else was here?
He opened his mouth to cry out. He coughed. Oily, viscous air, thick as smoke, choked his breath. It wound around his eyes and ears. It filled his mouth.
He spluttered, grew dizzy. He sunk to his knees on the bridge, clinging to the uneven surface. His breath rasped. He willed himself to stay conscious, willed himself not to fall.
Terror sent his gut to water.